Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Snow crash

Neal Stephenson
Bantam Spectra, 1992 (my copy is from 2003)
Size: Medium (my copy has 468 pages)
Theme: Cyberpunk
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Hiro Protagonist
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Snow crash is a fast-paced cyber adventure which explores some interesting concepts of the digital world, while delivering a very traditional spy/detective plot. The book has introduced a series of words and basic notions which have become commonplace along the years in computer lingo, such as “avatar”. Despite the fact that several people have said this should not be called science-fiction, but a purely cyberpunk novel, I found that there was a sufficient number of gadgets, weapons, and user consumer products to make me confortable in labeling it as sci-fi.

In a (not very) futuristic scenario, people from all over the world connect to a virtual reality called the Metaverse using special goggles and a computer able to project images on it, and control their avatars in what would be called nowadays a typical digital environment. Stephenson was able to imagine how people would act and interact in the Metaverse in a very similar way to how real 3D virtual worlds have evolved. In fact, I found uncanny similarities between the Metaverse and recent applications such as Second Life. 

The story follows Hiro Protagonist and Y.T. through a series of adventures both in the real world and the Metaverse. Y.T.’s story is almost exclusively one of the real world, where she is a Kourier and becomes involved with the Mafia when she helps Hiro with a delivery. Further on, she will interact with some of the major characters of the story, in a parallel but divergent line to that of Hiro, who is one of the best hackers of the Metaverse and an excellent swordsman in the real world. Hiro stumbles upon a plot by one of the planet’s most powerful individuals to gain even more power, destroying the hacker community in the process. As he unfolds the mystery, and he dives head on to the center of the conspiracy, he will have to push his abilities to the limit, both in reality and the Metaverse.

The plot is quite solid and very well delivered. I found the narrative engrossing and detailed. Hiro is an interesting character and is very well developed along the plot, as is Y.T. Some of the other characters are only superficially handled, but it is not difficult to identify their key motivations. The author does not abuse in the use of computer lingo, nor did he exaggerate in creating too many cybernetic concepts; just enough to remind the reader of what he’s reading. I found this to be a very interesting and worthwhile novel

*** Spoiler Alert *** 
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

Hiro finds out that Bob Rife, the fiber-optics tycoon, intends to increase his control over the world population through a biolinguistic metavirus, which he found in the ruins of ancient Sumer. Rife has been spreading the virus on the real world, and also intends to release it on the hacker community in the Metaverse, as their brains have become attuned to binary language making them susceptible to the virus. In the end, Hiro is able to produce a digital antivirus and prevents Raven from destroying the minds of the group of hackers attending Da5id’s memorial service. In the end, he starts mending his relationship with Juanita.

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